Randy Petersen's Opening Remarks – September, 27 2007

Randy Petersen's Opening Remarks – September, 27 2007

Another change in the search for award availability. As we scan the news to keep our readers updated, almost daily airlines are reporting new and improved award redemption calendars. Almost all of them are actually living up to their claims and the plight of the frequent flyer in search of endangered frequent flyer seats is improving. Let’s be clear — no matter how convenient these new award calendars become, they won’t serve everyone.

The latest development in award availability is actually from an airline far from the Americas. SAS EuroBonus has recently launched an improved award redemption calendar similar in many respects to other programs in that it displays alternative travel dates. But — and this is actually a huge leap — it also shows how many award seats are being offered. This may present problems for any number of airlines who have complaints monitored by consumer agencies. While exposing the number of award seats available could possibly be viewed as a problem, I actually see this initiative by SAS EuroBonus as a step in the right direction. Most frequent flyers I know are mad not because too few award seats are available, but because the airlines seem to be playing a game of smoke and mirrors. EuroBonus has created much more transparency to the process of award availability and that’s all that most frequent flyers are asking for.

Of course, some might argue that knowing the number of seats available is not that important because when you are looking for an award seat, all you really need to know is whether it’s available or not. I can’t argue with that logic. But I do think that since many individuals are using the Internet and have become their own travel agents, and travel agents have access to the number of seats available in fare codes, this information can assist members in planning their award redemptions. I can’t tell you how many times over the years a travel agent has told me there was only one seat left at “this price” so I need to make a decision to fly or not right away. This same type of immediacy might help members make decisions in the best interest of both the member and the program. I am quite pleased to see SAS get beyond the insecurity of allowing members to know exactly how many award seats are available on particular flights. SAS calls this process “Award seat prognosis,” an expression I find amusing. Love that word — prognosis!

The availability of award seats can only be viewed for SAS, Blue 1 and Wideroe flights.

And now a few comments from this month’s poll. We continued to ask more specific questions about how frequent flyers use their awards. I was a bit surprised by the results to one of the questions. We asked which comes first when planning a vacation: checking award availability before determining a destination or planning the vacation first and then looking for award availability. The poll results indicate that a very strong number of members check award availability first before determining the destination. How many? More than 40 percent of those responding to the question. This response certainly indicates how much influence frequent flyer miles have on today’s road warrior. What makes this interesting to me is that without frequent flyer miles and access to free room nights, it seems there would be fewer fanciful vacations among frequent travelers. I certainly know my fair share of road warriors who can brag that they haven’t paid for a family vacation in more than a dozen years and this type of research seems to bear it out. While I’m no economist, just running some loose numbers indicates that frequent flyer programs provide an economic impact of some $8.7 billion dollars a year in airline and hotel room redemption.

And one other question this month caught my attention. The poll revealed that nearly 30 percent of respondents used more than a single frequent flyer program to secure all the free seats they needed for their award redemption. It seems that miles are more widely spread out among the different programs than has been previously assumed. Whatever happened to the idea that we had all our miles in a single basket? It indicates that more of you are following our advice to earn miles in various programs and increase your chances for award redemption. Nonetheless, I’m surprised by the high number of respondents who invest in many mileage programs instead of opting for the traditional all-in-one program approach.

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